Authors: Tim Lahaye,Jerry B. Jenkins
Tags: #Adventure, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adult, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Contemporary, #Spiritual, #Religion
What Has Gone Before …
In one cataclysmic instant, millions of people all over the world disappeared. They simply vanished, leaving behind everything material: clothes, eyeglasses, contact lenses, hairpieces, hearing aids, fillings, jewelry, shoes, even pacemakers and surgical pins.
Millions vanished. But millions more remained—adults, but no children, and only a few young teens. All babies, including the unborn, disappeared—some during birth.
Worldwide chaos ensued. Planes, trains, buses, and cars crashed, ships sank, homes burned, grieving survivors committed suicide. A transportation and communications gridlock, coupled with the disappearances of many service personnel, left most to fend for themselves until some semblance of order returned.
Some said the world had been invaded by aliens from outer space. Others said the disappearances resulted from an enemy attack. And yet every country on the globe was touched by the disappearances.
Airline captain Rayford Steele and his twenty-year-old daughter Chloe were left behind. Rayford’s wife and their twelve-year-old son vanished. Rayford, piloting a 747 over the Atlantic en route to London, told his senior flight attendant, Hattie Durham, that he didn’t know what had happened. The terrifying truth was that he knew all too well. His wife had warned him of this very event. Christ had come to take away his own, and the rest, Rayford and Chloe included, had been left behind.
Rayford became consumed with finding the truth and making sure that he and Chloe would not miss any second chance. He felt responsible for her skepticism, for her believe-only-what-you-can-see-and-feel attitude.
His search took him to his wife’s church, where a handful of people, including even one on the pastoral staff, had been left behind. Visitation Pastor Bruce Barnes had lost his wife and children, and he, above all others, knew immediately that his weak, phony faith had failed him at the most critical instant of his life. In a single moment, he became the most convinced skeptic on earth—an enthusiastic, unapologetic evangelist.
Under Bruce’s tutelage and the influence of a videotape the senior pastor had left for just such a time, first Rayford and then Chloe came to believe in Christ. With their new pastor they formed what they call the Tribulation Force, a core group determined to challenge the forces of evil during the Tribulation period predicted in the Bible.
Meanwhile, Cameron—”Buck”—Williams, a senior staff writer for the prestigious newsmagazine
, was on a quest of his own. Buck had been aboard Rayford Steele’s plane when the Rapture occurred, and he was assigned to make some sense of the worldwide disappearances. His interviewing brought him into contact with one of the most powerful and charismatic personalities ever, the mysterious Romanian leader, Nicolae Carpathia. Within two weeks of the vanishings, Carpathia was swept to international power as head of the United Nations, promising to unite the devastated globe as one peaceful village.
Buck introduced flight attendant Hattie Durham to Carpathia, who quickly made her his personal assistant. After coming to faith in Christ under the influence of Rayford, Chloe, and Bruce, Buck felt responsible for Hattie and became desperate to get her away from Carpathia.
Demoted for allegedly blowing a major assignment, Buck relocated from New York to Chicago, where he joined Rayford, Chloe, and Bruce as the fourth member of the Tribulation Force. Together these four have determined to stand and fight against all odds, to never give in. Representing millions who missed the opportunity to meet Christ in the air, they have resolved not to lose hold of their newfound faith, no matter what the future might bring.
Buck Williams has witnessed the murderous evil power of Nicolae Carpathia, and Bruce Barnes knows from his study of Scripture that dark days lie ahead. The odds are, only one of the four members of the Tribulation Force will survive the next seven years.
But only Bruce has more than a hint of the terror to come. If the others knew, they might not venture so bravely into the future.
It was Rayford Steele’s turn for a break. He pulled the headphones down onto his neck and dug into his flight bag for his wife’s Bible, marveling at how quickly his life had changed. How many hours had he wasted during idle moments like this, poring over newspapers and magazines that had nothing to say? After all that had happened, only one book could hold his interest.
The Boeing 747 was on auto from Baltimore to a four o’clock Friday afternoon landing at Chicago O’Hare, but Rayford’s new first officer, Nick, sat staring ahead anyway, as if piloting the plane.
Doesn’t want to talk to me anymore
, Rayford thought.
Knew what was coming and shut me down before I opened my mouth
“Is it going to offend you if I sit reading this for a while?” Rayford asked.
The younger man turned and pulled the left phone away from his own ear. “Say again?”
Rayford repeated himself, pointing to the Bible. It had belonged to the wife he hadn’t seen for more than two weeks and probably would not see for another seven years.
“As long as you don’t expect me to listen.”
“I got that loud and clear, Nick. You understand I don’t care what you think of me, don’t you?”
Rayford leaned close and spoke louder. “What you think of me would have been hugely important a few weeks ago,” he said. “But—”
“Yeah, I know, OK? I got it, Steele, all right? You and lots of other people think the whole thing was Jesus. Not buying. Delude yourself, but leave me out of it.”
Rayford raised his brows and shrugged. “You wouldn’t respect me if I hadn’t tried.”
“Don’t be too sure.”
But when Rayford turned back to his reading, it was the
sticking out of his bag that grabbed his attention.
, like every other paper in the world, carried the front-page story: During a private meeting at the United Nations, just before a Nicolae Carpathia press conference, a horrifying murder/suicide had occurred. New U.N. Secretary-General Nicolae Carpathia had just installed the ten new members of the expanded Security Council, seeming to err by inaugurating two men to the same position of U.N. ambassador from the Great States of Britain.
According to the witnesses, billionaire Jonathan Stonagal, Carpathia’s friend and financial backer, suddenly overpowered a guard; stole his handgun, and shot himself in the head, the bullet passing through and killing one of the new ambassadors from Britain.
The United Nations had been closed for the day, and Carpathia was despondent over the tragic loss of his two dear friends and trusted advisers.
Bizarre as it might seem, Rayford Steele was one of only four people on the planet who knew the truth about Nicolae Carpathia—that he was a liar, a hypnotic brainwasher, the Antichrist himself. Others might suspect Carpathia of being other than he seemed, but only Rayford, his daughter, his pastor, and his new friend journalist Buck Williams knew for sure.
Buck had been one of the seventeen in that United Nations meeting room. And he had witnessed something entirely different—not a murder/suicide, but a double murder. Carpathia himself, according to Buck, had methodically borrowed the guard’s gun, forced his old friend Jonathan Stonagal to kneel, then killed Stonagal and the British ambassador with one shot.
Carpathia had choreographed the murders, and then, while the witnesses sat in horror, Carpathia quietly told them what they had seen—the same story the newspapers now carried. Every witness in that room but one corroborated it. Most chilling, they believed it. Even Steve Plank, Buck’s former boss, now Carpathia’s press agent. Even Hattie Durham, Rayford’s onetime flight attendant, who had become Carpathia’s personal assistant. Everyone except Buck Williams.
Rayford had been dubious when Buck told his version in Bruce Barnes’s office two nights ago. “You’re the only person in the room who saw it your way?” he had challenged the writer.
“Captain Steele,” Buck had said, “we all saw it the same way. But then Carpathia calmly described what he wanted us to think we had seen, and everybody but me immediately accepted it as truth. I want to know how he explains that he had the dead man’s successor already there and sworn in when the murder took place. But now there’s no evidence I was even there. It’s as if Carpathia washed me from their memories. People I know now swear I wasn’t there, and they aren’t joking.”
Chloe and Bruce Barnes had looked at each other and then back at Buck. Buck had finally become a believer, just before entering the meeting at the U.N. “I’m absolutely convinced that if I had gone into that room without God,” Buck said, “I would have been reprogrammed too.”
“But now if you just tell the world the truth—”
“Sir, I’ve been reassigned to Chicago because my boss believes I missed that meeting. Steve Plank asked why I had not accepted his invitation. I haven’t talked to Hattie yet, but you know she won’t remember I was there.”
“The biggest question,” Bruce Barnes said, “is what Carpathia thinks is in your head. Does he think he’s erased the truth from your mind? If he knows you know, you’re in grave danger.”
Now, as Rayford read the bizarre story in the paper, he noticed Nick switching from autopilot to manual. “Initial descent,” Nick said. “You want to bring her in?”
“Of course,” Rayford said. Nick could have landed the plane, but Rayford felt responsible. He was the captain. He would answer for these people. And even though the plane could land itself, he had not lost the thrill of handling it. Few things reminded him of life as it had been just weeks before, but landing a 747 was one of them.
Buck Williams had spent the day buying a car—something he hadn’t needed in Manhattan—and hunting for an apartment. He found a beautiful condo, at a place that advertised already-installed phones, midway between the [_Global Weekly _]Chicago bureau office and New Hope Village Church in Mount Prospect. He tried to convince himself it was the church that would keep drawing him west of the city, not Rayford Steele’s daughter, Chloe. She was ten years his junior, and whatever attraction he might feel for her, he was certain she saw him as some sort of a wizened mentor.
Buck had put off going to the office. He wasn’t expected there until the following Monday anyway, and he didn’t relish facing Verna Zee. When it had been his assignment to find a replacement for veteran Lucinda Washington, the Chicago bureau chief who had disappeared, he had told the militant Verna she had jumped the gun by moving into her former boss’s office. Now Buck had been demoted and Verna elevated. Suddenly, she was
But he didn’t want to spend all weekend dreading the meeting, and neither did he want to appear too eager to see Chloe Steele again right away, so Buck drove to the office just before closing. Would Verna make him pay for his years of celebrity as an award-winning cover-story writer? Or would she make it even worse by killing him with kindness?
Buck felt the stares and smiles of the underlings as he moved through the outer office. By now, of course, everyone knew what had happened. They felt sorry for him, were stunned by his lapse of judgment. How could Buck Williams miss a meeting that would certainly be one of the most momentous in news history, even if it hadn’t resulted in the double death? But they were also aware of Buck’s credentials. Many, no doubt, would still consider it a privilege to work with him.
No surprise, Verna had already moved back into the big office. Buck winked at Alice, Verna’s spike-haired young secretary, and peered in. It looked as if Verna had been there for years. She had already rearranged the furniture and hung her own pictures and plaques. Clearly, she was ensconced and loving every minute of it.
A pile of papers littered Verna’s desk, and her computer screen was lit, but she seemed to be idly gazing out the window. Buck poked his head in and cleared his throat. He noticed a flash of recognition and then a quick recomposing. “Cameron,” she said flatly, still seated. “I didn’t expect you till Monday.”
“Just checking in,” he said. “You can call me Buck.”
“I’ll call you Cameron, if you don’t mind, and—”
“I do mind. Please call—”
“Then I’ll call you Cameron even if you do mind. Did you let anyone know you were coming?”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“With me. I have a schedule, you know.”
“And there’s no room for me on it?”
“You’re asking for an appointment then?”
“If it’s not inconvenient. I’d like to know where I’m going to land and what kind of assignments you have in mind for me, that kind of—”
“Those sound like things we can talk about when we meet,” Verna said. “Alice! See if I have a slot in twenty minutes, please!”
“You do,” Alice called out. “And I would be happy to show Mr. Williams his cubicle while he’s waiting, if you—”
“I prefer to do that myself, Alice. Thank you. And could you shut my door?”
Alice looked apologetic as she rose and moved past Buck to shut the door. He thought she even rolled her eyes. “
can call me Buck,” he whispered.